The Roughriders were scheduled to have 32 free agents when CFL free agency officially opens on Valentine’s Day 2023. However, the Riders recently extended both defensive back Jordan Beaulieu and running back Jamal Morrow.
The Morrow signing was particularly important because he came into his own in his second CFL season rushing for 666 yards and 3 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The Riders still however have several notable free agents including quarterback Cody Fajardo, wide receiver Shaq Evans and linebacker Darnell Sankey.
In terms of notoriety, Cody Fajardo is perhaps the Roughriders biggest pending free agent. Fajardo had an underwhelming season in 2022 and lost his starting job to Mason Fine after the Week 18 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Roughriders lost 5 in a row before Fajardo’s benching and finished 6-12 on the season. Fajardo had a career-worst 13 interceptions this past season. He did however throw for 3360 yards and 16 touchdowns in 17 games. Fajardo is likely looking beyond Saskatchewan for a starting QB job somewhere else in the CFL and he is unlikely to return to the Roughriders.
“I hope there’s somebody out there that might still want me,” Fajardo told the media in Regina on Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s the end of the Cody Fajardo football book. I think it might just be the end of the chapter. It’s tough to say. You never know, but it’s difficult to go out like this. Your last home game and not being able to start and you have no idea what’s going to happen in the offseason.”via NSN Nevada Sportsnet
Shaq Evans was arguably the Roughriders second-best receiver in 2022 behind Kian Schaffer-Baker. While Evans was not been able to reach his 2019 numbers he did have a solid albeit injury plagued season in Saskatchewan. Evans had 32 receptions for 487 yards, and 2 touchdowns for the Riders. His 487 receiving yards were good for 2nd on the team and 2 touchdowns were 4th on the team.
He was also the second-most targeted receiver on the team behind Schaffer-Baker. At 31 years old his best years might be behind him but Saskatchewan has six different wide receivers as pending free agents. The Riders will have to make a crucial decision on whether they believe they can win with Evans or whether they should invest in a younger WR instead.
Darnell Sankey was sensational in his first season in Saskatchewan. He proved to be a leader on Saskatchewan’s defence this season while playing on a 1-year deal. Sankey led the entire CFL in defensive tackles in 2022 with 120. According to the Regina Leader-Post he also set a Roughriders single-season tackles record when he surpassed Dave Albright’s 118 defensive tackles (1987).
Sankey may attract attention south of the border since he is still only 28 years old and just had one of the best defensive performances in the CFL. Sankey and his linebacker partner Larry Dean provided the Roughriders with a superb 1-2 punch on the defensive side of the ball. Their “Batman and Robin” like partnership provided fans with hope. Hopefully the Riders can keep the duo together for 2023 and beyond.
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